By: Sharon Aron Baron
A tradition for many, each year thousands head over to the once-a-year St. Andrew Carnival for the live music, delicious food — and yes, those fantastic carnival rides.
But on Saturday night, one of those carnival rides turned into a frightening experience after the operator allegedly “went rogue” and wouldn’t stop it.
Robert Thompson said while he was attending the St Andrew Carnival, he was stuck on the Zero Gravity ride for at least 20 minutes after the operator wouldn’t stop the ride — even laughing as children were crying, falling to the floor.
“Kids were begging for help, stuck to the wall, and falling to the ground as he kept the ride going over and over.”
Amusements of America which provides the rides for the St. Andrew Carnival rates the Zero Gravity a five in “Aggressive Thrill.” It’s described on their website as a high speed, gravity-defying experience where riders stand against the wall and as the cylinder begins to spin, as it rises in the air at a 70-degree angle.
Eimear Murray took her children to the carnival to have a fun time, and it ended up becoming her worst nightmare when her 9-year-old daughter and 12-year old-son were stuck on the ride as she stood watching.
“After five minutes, I became concerned thinking the ride was running too long. A few moments later, I could hear people on the ride screaming ‘Help us. Please get us off this ride!'”
She approached the ride operator and asked him to please stop, and he told her he was stopping it. She watched the ride come down, then seconds later go back up and start spinning again. At this point, the ride had been running ten minutes, and she was worried about her children and angry at the man operating the ride for not stopping it.
“I looked at the people on the ride, and some of the children were falling to the floor, still screaming, “Help us!”
She approached the man again, begging him to stop the ride, concerned for the safety of her children.
“His response to me was, ‘Why are you concerned for your children? Do you want them back?’ Like it was a joke.”
The ride finally came to a stop, and her children got off. Her son looked white as a ghost, and her daughter said her chest hurt, and she felt sick. They were both scared, she said.
Murray brought it to the attention of the staff working the carnival as well as the Coral Springs Police, where she has filed a police report.
She asked the ride operator why, when she was begging him to stop the ride and help her children did he start it up again. She said that his response was he took his hand off of the button by mistake and stated he had only started the job two weeks prior and did not know how to operate it correctly.
Once St. Andrew Parish found out about the incident, they reported it to Amusements of America along with a clear statement that the incident was unacceptable.
Christine Hughes, principal at St. Andrew, said they take safety very seriously as so many of their own families and children enjoy the carnival rides. Every ride is on a computer timer, so they aren’t sure how it could have gone on for longer than the specified duration — typically three to four minutes.
To make sure the issue wasn’t part of a mechanical problem, Amusements of America closed the ride and reinspected it to determine if it was safe — which it was. At this time, there has been no confirmation if the ride operator has been reprimanded.
Murray said, “What was supposed to be a family-friendly carnival ended up being a horrific experience for my children and myself.”